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1,750 Voters Turn Out In Post Falls Initiative Aims To Hinder Recruitment Of Micron Plant

A citizens initiative that could stall the recruitment of Micron Technology Inc. to Kootenai County drew a record 1,750 voters here Tuesday.

That’s more than twice the number expected. Consequently, final results were not available by 10:30 p.m.

Absentee ballots, however, overwhelmingly shot down the initiative, 45-14.

Micron is considering Post Falls, among several other cities nationwide, for a plant site.

The initiative, written by the Kootenai County Property Owners Association, would require a citywide election each time the city offers tax-increment financing to a business.

That would figure to discourage Micron because the company is on the verge of making a decision about its expansion plant site. The company has said it will consider public attitudes - not just economics - in deciding where to locate its $1.3 billion expansion plant.

Post Falls is contemplating a $45 million tax-increment assistance offer to Micron.

Ron Rankin - president of the property owners association - said Post Falls voters deserve a voice in decisions that may affect tax dollars. Yet, even before ballots were sent from Post Falls to the county courthouse in Coeur d’Alene, Rankin appeared resolved to defeat.

“Mayor (Jim) Hammond, the City Council and the board of directors of the Post Falls Chamber of Commerce have engaged in a campaign of deception to confuse the voters of Post Falls,” Rankin said. “(It appears) they have succeeded.”

Thousands of dollars were spent by the business community in a bid to defeat Rankin’s initiative. Groups such as Jobs Plus, Concerned Businesses and the chamber of commerce solicited money throughout the city.

Rankin figures he was outspent $25,000 to $7,000.

The property owners association easily was outgunned in a war of advertising. Road signs and newspaper ads calling for residents to “vote no” have been commonplace.

Residents also appeared to view the vote as a chance to welcome Micron.

“We voted `no’,” said resident Darlene Shuck, as she left City Hall. “Property taxes are very expensive here in Post Falls. Micron could help bring (property) taxes down somewhat.”

Bob Potter, president of the business recruiter Jobs Plus, said the Post Falls vote will send a strong signal to Micron. Micron officials are expected to visit Spokane and Kootenai County for three days next week.

Because of its proximity to Spokane’s work force and Interstate 90, Post Falls is the front-runner among Kootenai County sites considered by Micron. Idaho’s tax structure - and education programs offered in Washington - helped lure Harpers Inc. to Post Falls a year ago.

Voter turnout on Tuesday surprised the city and the property owners association. Only a few hundred people were expected to cast ballots. But voters were lined up at City Hall - the only polling place - shortly after 7 a.m. Nearly 550 ballots were cast before noon.

Voters were lined up at City Hall after the doors were closed at 8 p.m., further delaying results.

Although Tuesday’s vote coincided with efforts to recruit Micron, the ballot measure actually was prompted by a different development - International Expo. That’s a giant retail and entertainment project proposed on 600 acres west of town.

Legislation allowing Post Falls to use tax-increment financing was written, in part, by Expo’s developer, Watson & Associates of Seal Beach, Calif. The Watson property also is considered the best site in Kootenai County for Micron’s plant.

Tax-increment financing diverts a development’s property taxes to pay off bonds that are sold to build public infrastructure. That infrastructure - roads, utilities and sewers, for example - can be built by the developer or the city.

Such financing does not result in reduced tax bills for developers.


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